Underrated Films From Oscar-Winning Directors

To win an Academy Award for Best Director has to be one of the highest honors any filmmaker can have.

Of course, it is far from the only significant award they can receive, and countless great filmmakers have never won it. However, it still stands as an important and well-known award that many high-profile directors strive for.

Given the talent needed to gain such an award, it stands to reason that its recipients have all made more than one great film. Many Oscar-winning directors have made great films that haven’t gotten nearly as much recognition as their films that won the awards. To celebrate and highlight the films from directors that fall into this category, the following are nine underrated films made by Oscar-winning directors, either before or after their big win.

Martin Scorsese – ‘Bringing Out the Dead’ (1999)

Martin Scorsese is a director who doesn’t need an introduction. He’s made some of the greatest films of all time and finally won an Oscar for directing the 2006 film The Departed. It’s a quality movie, but not nearly one of his best… still, better late than never for one of the best living directors.

While he might be best known for his crime movies, Scorsese has made plenty of great films that don’t involve gangsters. One of them is Bringing Out the Dead, which is potentially the most underrated film by the director. With a never-better Nicolas Cage playing an overworked ambulance driver struggling to maintain his sanity, it’s a relentlessly tense and often thrilling ride and worth watching for any Scorsese fan.

Chloé Zhao – ‘The Rider’ (2017)

Chloé Zhao directed two films before winning an Oscar for her work on Nomadland. The second was The Rider, which focuses similarly on character over narrative and centers on a young man who was a rodeo rider before an accident, exploring how he lives his life and interacts with his family.

The Rider earned a decent amount of critical praise but didn’t quite make the same impact Nomadland did. It’s a shame because it’s equally strong as Zhao’s more famous film and hopefully gained some more attention since Zhao became a more well-known figure within the film world, thanks to Nomadland and her directing work on Eternals.

Guillermo del Toro – ‘Crimson Peak’ (2015)

Guillermo del Toro directed nine films before winning a Best Director Oscar for 2017’s The Shape of Water. Most of his films before then were critically praised or at least resonated strongly with a smallish but devoted fanbase (films like Pacific Rim or his two Hellboy movies; none were huge box office hits but were well-liked by those who saw them).

Still, the black sheep in his filmography is probably the film he made right before The Shape of Water: 2015’s Crimson Peak. It’s an amazing-looking supernatural horror movie with a great sense of atmosphere and some good performances from its cast. It may not be his most entertaining or thought-provoking movie, but for what it is, it works exceptionally well, and it feels a little unfair for it to remain overlooked amongst del Toro’s other films.

Clint Eastwood – ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’ (1976)

There are almost too many Clint Eastwood films to count, and while he’s best known for his work in front of the camera (as an actor), he’s also been behind it dozens of times as a director. Often, when he directs, he also acts, so the sheer volume of films he’s been a part of ensures that a few will be buried under the enormity of his filmography.

He’s won an Oscar for directing twice – Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby – which are certainly amongst his best films. And while a number of his lesser films are not as well-known, there are also some underrated gems with Eastwood’s name attached to them, including The Outlaw Josey Wales. It’s an intense and well-made western that’s among Eastwood’s best within the genre, but by the time it came out in 1976, westerns were going out of fashion. It’s still more than worth a watch, though, for anyone who’s overlooked it up until now.

Ang Lee – ‘Eat Drink Man Woman’ (1994)

Ang Lee has won an Oscar twice for directing: once in 2005 for Brokeback Mountain and again in 2012 for Life of Pi. Interestingly, neither film won Best Picture, though the former definitely should have, considering its loss is one of the biggest and strangest upsets in Oscar history.

To call his 1994 film Eat Drink Man Woman underrated might be a stretch, but while it was an acclaimed international film at the time of its release, it hasn’t endured the way some of his other films have. It deserves to be continually appreciated because it’s a perfect blend of comedy, family drama, and romance and features great characters, excellent performances, and a genuinely emotional story.

Kathryn Bigelow – ‘Detroit’ (2017)

Kathryn Bigelow won an Oscar for The Hurt Locker and had an almost just as acclaimed follow-up three years later, with Zero Dark Thirty. Several years after that, she directed Detroit, which was of similar quality, yet failed to pick up the kinds of accolades and adoration Bigelow’s two previous movies did.

It depicts a real-life conflict that took place between Detroit residents and the police in 1967, and as such, it makes for a tense and often hard-to-watch film. This may have been a turn-off for some viewers, but The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty also aimed to capture grounded events with grit and tension and still seemed to attract audiences. It all makes Detroit truly underrated, and it’s one of the most overlooked and underappreciated films released in the 2010s.

Danny Boyle – ‘T2 Trainspotting’ (2017)

2008’s Slumdog Millionaire was the film that earned Danny Boyle an Oscar for Best Director. He’d already made plenty of good films before that one, though, with perhaps his best and most celebrated film being the original Trainspotting, released in 1996 – whilst a big-time hit it is never in any top 100’s.

Some 21 years later, Boyle directed its sequel, T2 Trainspotting, which matches its predecessor’s highs. It might lack the timeless quality of the classic first movie. Still, it’s a fantastic sequel that uses the 20 years between movies to its advantage, showing what happened to the characters from the first in a funny, tragic, and believable way. Though it’s generally well-regarded, it’s still underrated because many don’t seem to appreciate how much of a miracle it was that a Trainspotting sequel worked at all.

Joel & Ethan Coen – ‘Miller’s Crossing’ (1990)

Given the Coen Brothers have made so many films for almost four decades now, a few are inevitably going to go under the radar. Their 2007 film No Country For Old Men got them the Best Director Oscar, and they’d already cemented themselves as revered filmmakers well before then.

One of their earliest films ends up one of their most underrated, then: Miller’s Crossing, released in 1990. Maybe it was overshadowed by another big crime movie that year (Goodfellas), but it still deserves love for being one of the best gangster movies set during the Prohibition era.

William Friedkin – ‘Killer Joe’ (2011)

William Friedkin directed Killer Joe some 40 years after directing The French Connection, the 1971 movie that got him a Best Director Oscar. While Killer Joe might not be on the same level – nor reach the heights of other Friedkin films, like The Exorcist or To Live and Die in L.A. – it’s still very good.

It’s a small-scale, confronting crime drama about a family getting mixed up with a ruthless hitman, played by Matthew McConaughey. Speaking of, this was arguably the film that kicked off the so-called “McConaissance,” so for that, it certainly deserves more attention and admiration.

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Sarah Meere
Sarah Meere
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Sarah looks after corporate enquiries and relationships for UKFilmPremieres, CelebEvents, ShowbizGossip, Celeb Management brands for the MarkMeets Group. Sarah works for numerous media brands across the UK.

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